Staff by Day, Locavore by Night

For some of us, cooking is a chore. But for Cara Cea, manager of public information at Pace, it’s so much more. As an award-winning cook, food writer, and farmer’s market president, food isn’t just something she eats. It’s something she lives for.

Mark Vergari / The Journal News

By day, Cara Cea handles media relations for the Westchester Campus. By night, it’s all about the ratatouille pizza.

“It all started because my son and I had seen the movie Ratatouille. He said ‘Mom, can you make me ratatouille?’” Cea says. Thinking he knew what ratatouille was, Cea spent hours chopping vegetables and cooking it up. When it was ready to be eaten, her son’s response was a familiar one: “Ewww, I’m not eating that.” Rather than give up on the ratatouille, Cea went to plan B: pizza. “Kids will eat anything on pizza. So I bought pizza crust, put all my ratatouille on the pizza, threw on some cheese. He loved it!” she says.

It was this inventive pie that earned Cea a spot in The Journal News’ Locally Grown recipe contest. As one of four finalists, she participated in a cook-off at The Garrison restaurant that was televised on RNN and the ratatouille pizza became an award-winner.

The cook-off led to requests from Cea’s local farmer’s market. First, they asked her to speak at the market and hand out recipes. Next, she was volunteering on the board. Then, she began doing PR and advertising for them. And soon, Cea was named president of the Suffern Farmers’ Market, where she also manages their website, Facebook, Twitter, and blog.

In addition to her Suffern Farmers’ Market responsibilities, Cea is spreading the word about local food and farmers as a guest blogger for the Journal News’ Small Bites as well as her own food blog, Farmers Market Cooking, which she uses to inform people about local farmers and recipes that use local foods.

Cea’s even brought her expertise to Pace, speaking about the role of the individual in local foods at the Foodshed Conference, the annual meeting of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities co-sponsored by Pace.

“It’s important for people to become aware of how your food choices affect not only local farmers, but also the environment. There are so many things to consider, food miles, for example. If you’re eating an apple from Washington State, when New York grows them, not only are you not supporting local farmers, but that apple had to travel 3,000 to find you,” Cea says. “There’s the environmental and the economic impact. In these times, we want to support our own local economy.”

And Cea is all about practicing what she preaches—growing her own basil, parsley, peppers, onions, scallions, garlic, lettuce, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, and heirloom tomatoes, from seeds that were passed on from her grandfather-in-law in Italy. She is also committed to expanding her garden and hopes to one day be able to eat three seasons of the year out of her garden.

“Local food is my passion and my cause,” Cea says.

And, of course, we couldn’t leave you without the award-winning recipe.

Ratatouille Pizza

1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/8 -inch slices
1 small eggplant, sliced into thin ( 3/8 -inch) slices, about 2 inches by 1 inch
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
1 store-bought or homemade pizza dough
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
Handful of pine nuts to sprinkle
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano to taste


For the sauces

Both tomato sauce and pesto can be bought ready-made at the market, but recipes are below for those who want to use the freshest ingredients:

Pesto

2 to 3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts (pignoli nuts) or walnuts or a combination
Dash of salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (or a combination of the two)
  • Place garlic in a food processor and mince. Add the basil leaves, pine nuts and salt. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until all the ingredients are puréed. Add Parmesan cheese and mix. If the pesto is too thick, add an extra tablespoon of oil.

Tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small, yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 fresh (or canned) tomatoes
Fresh basil to taste (about a tablespoon)
  • Chop the onions and mince the garlic and sauté in the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and basil. If using fresh tomatoes, add a small amount of tomato paste (to thicken) and some water. Sauté on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors.

For the pizza

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet or pizza pan with olive oil or another vegetable oil spray. Set aside.
  • Salt the zucchini and eggplant slices and sauté in a pot with olive oil, peppers and onion for about 10 minutes to soften.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes and season to taste. Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley.
  • Spread pizza dough on the pan. Cover pizza dough with tomato sauce and then spread the vegetable mixture over the pizza.
  • Top with fresh mozzarella, drizzle with pesto and sprinkle pine nuts and Pecorino Romano.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 servings